should municipalities be allowed to sell off parts of public parks?

12472521_1288480304498962_6317939821284350831_nWorth mentioning – there is an email circulating in Radnor Township in Delaware County concerning an old house and a Township Park owned by the taxpayers of Radnor. The property is called the Willows.

In this email the sender addresses a neighboring development and the residents looking for their support – the development is called Inveraray.

Inveraray is a bit pretentious, check out their website. They scream landed gentry but are they really? It’s quite the stucco land of Stepford actually:

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Anyway this person says that they want to buy the house and a couple acres around it, actually close to three and move there. I am not naming this person by name, their name is somewhat immaterial. The important thing is not the WHO but the WHY. They claim they are looking for a larger house in Radnor Township:

For the last several months I have looked for an opportunity to move into a larger residence with my family…. where I could again reinvest in an older property and turn it around to current premium standards we all love and admire.

 

This past week I submitted two proposals to purchase or lease for long term the Willows residence plus 2.25 + or- acres surrounding the residence for my family.

 

My plan proposes to reinvest in the manor house well more than $1.0 million dollars to modern livable standards.

 

It is my hope that this would be a win-win solution that would not cost the tax payers nor would it cost your beautiful neighborhood.

 

After all we, long term Radnor Residents paid for the 47 acres to stop development but certainly did not purchase the estate because a family lived in the main house.

I have had some astounding emails shifted my direction over the years but this one takes the cake. It’s like “Hi fellow rich people I want to move into your sandbox, won’t you kindly help me and I will have you over for tea?”

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The house is part of a public park. How could Radnor Township legally sell something that belongs to the taxpayers the could affect the rest of the park usage?

If this person wants to live like nouveau landed gentry, that’s terrific. Let them go buy a building lot over at Ardrossan. There are lovely lots for sale, correct?

And when you research how the Willows was acquired by Radnor (see Willows Ordinance ) you see it was done via condemnation, or eminent domain. In this case it was public purpose. They paid what? Like a million dollars for the land and house in 1973?  Was that even worth that back then? And it was all for a PUBLIC PARK.  So if that is how the land and house were acquired and flash forward to 2016 and they sell off the house and acreage around it, in the visual middle of the park to a private person can’t it be contemplated that Radnor Township is turning eminent domain for public purpose to eminent domain for private gain?

How can that even be considered as a solution???

10366001_1288480357832290_6348205829566592359_nThe Willows has been a problem for Radnor Township probably mostly due to past mismanagement of the property, and a lack of consistent maintenance, correct?  They refer to the house as a “mansion” and it was never a mansion it was just a house. And it is NOT a huge house with landmark status or special historic preservation status – it’s not as if it is on the NTHP list.

I actually know quite a bit about the house because a friend of mine went to high school with a grandson of the last owners of the house and I know a woman who is the granddaughter of the architect. The granddaughter of the architect (Charles Barton Keen) suggested at the beginning of 2016 that the house be razed and turned into a folly. (Read this letter.)

This isn’t happening in Chester County, no, but I am somewhat astounded at the premise.10402709_1288480391165620_9078402028615408367_n

A park that is a public park should remain a public park. And if a tenant can’t be found in the can afford to do the necessary upgrades to the house which I think would probably include updating the electrical wiring to more than knob and tube and making sure there was no lead paint or asbestos on site and Radnor Township can’t afford it why keep the house standing? Mind you I never say that about old houses but this is one of those situations where I just shake my head.

Yes it’s an old house but it’s not even spectacular when compared to other old houses in the area that are still standing. It has no real historical worthiness. It is not one of the important works of Charles Barton Keen. It’s just a house.  And I have always been curious as to the financial circumstances surrounding Radnor Township purchasing this in the first place. I don’t think anyone has ever seen a report of that.

If this house was at the edge of the park, the public park, I probably wouldn’t write this post. But this house is in the middle of a very large park and that sets a dangerous precedence for public parks anywhere.

Of course the issues with the house at the Willows also points to a larger problem and inconsistencies in historic preservation at local levels in municipalities through out Pennsylvania.

I love old houses. I like but not love the Willows as far as the house goes. But I love the park in which it sits and other things like the Skunk Hollow Community Garden. Turning The Willows into a giant donut by carving out the center so a private party owns it and then could even flip the property is not a solution, it’s a big problem waiting to happen on so many levels.  Putting a nursery school in the Willows is also a problem. And why is that nursery school really leaving St.David’s Church after all these years and who else were they speaking with who may have said no thank you?

The perfect solution was when a caterer wanted to rent the Willows and use it as a dedicated destination site. That was perfect because well, weddings were held there for years. But that fell through because of funding issues, didn’t it?  And that brings this full circle to the fact the Willows in past administrations of Radnor Township was not truly maintained. I mean who knew until recently about the electrical wiring still being so old? That is a fire hazard, correct? And what about the other issues? Is their lead paint and are their lead lined pipes for example? Has anyone ever heard about that definitively?

12742356_1288480367832289_375092838788559525_nThis isn’t an 18th or 19th century mansion. It’s a house. It was a house built in the early 20th century in the California style by a father for his daughter when she married. The Main Line has lots of those wedding gift houses and another one that actually was even more lovely and left to rot before it was razed was the former Clothier house on Buck Lane in Haverford across from the Haverford School Football field.  The land was empty for a long time but  new construction planned for it. Not sure if anything ever got built.

The Willows house has been a long time folly for Radnor Township, so maybe now is the time to actually consider it becoming one? Because if Radnor commissioners fall down the slippery slope of selling off land and a house taken for the public in 1973 as public propose to a private party that is a slippery slope to a great deal of unpleasantness. And my greater concern is it sets a dangerous precedence in Pennsylvania.

At the end of the day, sign me very glad I can’t see this hot mess from my window.

Here is the Main Line Media News Article:

Resident offers to buy mansion at The Willows for private home

Leslie Morgan of Wayne, a commercial real estate developer, has offered to buy the house plus two surrounding acres or lease it and make it her family residence. Morgan did not disclose the amounts she offered the township but said she would make her financial information available to the township solicitor or finance director.

“I would say to the taxpayers and residents of Radnor that it would be a shame for the Willows to be torn down or for the park to be overtaken by over 160 non- school age children due to a lease termination of their private business (the nursery school).”

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MISSING! have you seen this boy? #findcayman

MISSING – please SHARE as widely as possible – Cayman Naib, 8th grader at the Shipley School. He left his home in Newtown Square area around 7 pm last night (3/4). He was wearing ski clothes but had no wallet and left his phone at home. If you have any information please call local police or Newtown Township Police (Delaware County) Detective Moore at 610-356-0602. 

Have you seen this boy? This is every parents’ nightmare, and he’s close enough in age to our own child that my heart is in my throat for these parents.  I do not know this boy, but he is a good friend to one of my friend Janet’s boys. He attends my alma mater, the Shipley School.

Here is a more detailed message ( and another photo) from Newtown Police (Delaware County):

**************MISSING JUVENILE******************
The Newtown Police is asking for your assistance to help locate a missing juvenile. Missing since 6:30 P.M. on Wednesday, March 4, 2015, is Cayman Naib. Cayman is 13 years-old, 5’7”, 110 lbs with brown hair and brown eyes. He was last seen wearing a gray down winter jacket, black ski pants, and hiking boots. He is an 8th grade student at The Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, P.A. Cayman could be in the Radnor/Wayne area or may have purchased a train ticket to Philadelphia. If anybody has any information on his whereabouts, please contact Newtown Police at 610-356-0602 or email Investigator William Moor at moorw@newtowntownship.org. Provided is a recent image of Cayman. Please share this post.

 

living and co-existing with group homes

DSC_3600This post represents uncharted waters.  I am writing about it because in part I don’t understand the rights involved.  I get the basics and that is about it.

What am I talking about?  Group houses.  Group houses of developmentaly disadvantaged adults and even kids.

These group houses are all over our communities.  I have one in my neighborhood, friends have one in their neighborhood in Gladwyne in Lower Merion Township, friends have one in their West Chester neighborhood, and other friends have one in their Rosemont neighborhood in Radnor Township. These homes are in many, many places in Montgomery, Chester, and Delware counties.

These community homes are owned by companies and institutions that specialize in the needs of the special needs, and in other cases the homes are owned by other people who rent to these companies and institutions for profit.

I have no problem having homes like this in our communities.  They are allowed by law and these disadvantaged people have a right to as normal a  life  as possible and a home too.

These homes are allowed in our communities and are protected under Federal laws. I am not a zoning or civil rights lawyer but I imagine along with anti-discrimination laws they cover these homes under things like the Fair Housing Act.  I found very helpful information courtesy of the Department of Justice who say (in part):

The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful —

To utilize land use policies or actions that treat groups of persons with disabilities less favorably than groups of non-disabled persons. An example would be an ordinance prohibiting housing for persons with disabilities or a specific type of disability, such as mental illness, from locating in a particular area, while allowing other groups of unrelated individuals to live together in that area.
To take action against, or deny a permit, for a home because of the disability of individuals who live or would live there. An example would be denying a building permit for a home because it was intended to provide housing for persons with mental retardation.
To refuse to make reasonable accommodations in land use and zoning policies and procedures where such accommodations may be necessary to afford persons or groups of persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to use and enjoy housing.
What constitutes a reasonable accommodation is a case-by-case determination.
Not all requested modifications of rules or policies are reasonable. If a requested modification imposes an undue financial or administrative burden on a local government, or if a modification creates a fundamental alteration in a local government’s land use and zoning scheme, it is not a “reasonable” accommodation.
The disability discrimination provisions of the Fair Housing Act do not extend to persons who claim to be disabled solely on the basis of having been adjudicated a juvenile delinquent, having a criminal record, or being a sex offender. Furthermore, the Fair Housing Act does not protect persons who currently use illegal drugs, persons who have been convicted of the manufacture or sale of illegal drugs, or persons with or without disabilities who present a direct threat to the persons or property of others.

HUD and the Department of Justice encourage parties to group home disputes to explore all reasonable dispute resolution procedures, like mediation, as alternatives to litigation.

 

They continue and answer some basic questions with regard to fair housing and local zoning:

Q. Does the Fair Housing Act pre-empt local zoning laws?

No. “Pre-emption” is a legal term meaning that one level of government has taken over a field and left no room for government at any other level to pass laws or exercise authority in that area. The Fair Housing Act is not a land use or zoning statute; it does not pre-empt local land use and zoning laws. This is an area where state law typically gives local governments primary power. However, if that power is exercised in a specific instance in a way that is inconsistent with a federal law such as the Fair Housing Act, the federal law will control. Long before the 1988 amendments, the courts had held that the Fair Housing Act prohibited local governments from exercising their land use and zoning powers in a discriminatory way.

Q. What is a group home within the meaning of the Fair Housing Act?

The term “group home” does not have a specific legal meaning. In this statement, the term “group home” refers to housing occupied by groups of unrelated individuals with disabilities.(2) Sometimes, but not always, housing is provided by organizations that also offer various services for individuals with disabilities living in the group homes. Sometimes it is this group home operator, rather than the individuals who live in the home, that interacts with local government in seeking permits and making requests for reasonable accommodations on behalf of those individuals.

The term “group home” is also sometimes applied to any group of unrelated persons who live together in a dwelling — such as a group of students who voluntarily agree to share the rent on a house. The Act does not generally affect the ability of local governments to regulate housing of this kind, as long as they do not discriminate against the residents on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, handicap (disability) or familial status (families with minor children).

 

Q. What kinds of health and safety regulations can be imposed upon group homes?

The great majority of group homes for persons with disabilities are subject to state regulations intended to protect the health and safety of their residents. The Department of Justice and HUD believe, as do responsible group home operators, that such licensing schemes are necessary and legitimate. Neighbors who have concerns that a particular group home is being operated inappropriately should be able to bring their concerns to the attention of the responsible licensing agency.

 

 

I just chose a few things off that page, an excerpt.  This web page on the Department of Justice website has a lot of information. If you have a group home in your neighborhood, I suggest you check out this page titled “Group Homes, Local Land Use, and the Fair Housing Act.” I will also note that the evolution of disability rights in the United States is fascinating.

When doing research I also found this publication from the Minnesota State Planning Agency. It’s like a handbook to assimilating these types of homes into their communities.  Dry, but interesting. I also found a website called “The Arc” that has a lot of information.

So why am I writing about this delicate topic if I am o.k. with a group home like this being in my neighborhood? Truthfully, I have a couple of concerns about the house in my neighborhood and I wonder what the rights of my neighbors and my familiy’s are and how we can better co-exist.

Our neighborhood group home is owned by a larger company that took over a smaller company.  When the smaller company owned the home it was different. It was better maintained, longer term neighbors say.

The company that owns our home states in their literature that they:

support one to five people, depending on need and location. Most homes have 24-hour supervision, and all meet state licensing standards…homes are adapted to the needs of the individuals living there and are maintained with care.

 

Ok not to be unkind, but there I take issue – with the whole “maintained with care” of it all. Truthfully do they do more than  the bare minimum possible to the exterior and the grounds (I have no idea what it is like inside and nor would I have reason to be on the property or in the house)?

For example, they have done very little clean up of any storm debris from February’s ice storm. (And let’s get real everyone has started by now because there is so much to do.)

And around the time of the ice storm and beyond, I had to contact one of the local offices of this company to let them know they had fir trees and such leaning on electrical wires.  Very pleasant people to deal with. The 24 hour staff had never to my knowledge notified them so they could tell PECO. We had already gone a week without power, and I thought if I did not like it very much, how hard would more of that be for developmentally challenged adults?

Group homes in the broad aspect are like rental homes, right?  Some rental houses have landlords who are more house proud than others.  I don’t expect full flowering gardens, but it would be nice if they cleaned up more.  I would think it would be nicer for the residents too.

These houses have periods where they have a lot of cars in and out.  Our neighborhood group house has one on one proportion of care staff to each resident.  We are not sure how many people actually live in the house and how do they do a resident count as far as our municipality as it seems that part of it defers to local zoning? Is it a head count of residents alone or is it a combined head count of residents and staff as a total head count if this is a home with 24 hour a day 7 days a week care?

The number of people is not only important from the view of what is it our local zoning actually allows (which is like a great mystery of life), but when considering things like septic systems.

We don’t have access to public sewer and we are all on septic.  And you can see multiple sand mounds on this property from public rights of way and neighbors’ side yards, and well those have to do with septic systems and how many of those can you dig on a property probably around an acre in size?

In the warmer weather you occasionally get septic smells from this group home.  We all do our best to treat our septic systems with respect and we know we have to limit massive amounts of water usage so as not to harm our systems.

We also pay attention and try to use more environmentally friendly cleaning products and clothes detergents.  We as more permanent residents know we have to do these thing but do the staff of this group home know or care about such things? Septic systems contain human waste.  Waste like that if it escapes septic tanks, fingers, and so on can spread disease.  What happens if the septic goes completely? How many of those mound things can you dig? How does that affect not only our quality of life as neighbors but the lives of the group home residents as well?

And to all of the things that go into “curb appeal” I would add good septic along with a tidied up property, wouldn’t you?  Because face it, the curb appeal of others’ affects your property values too, right?  Our homes are our castles, so you can’t blame people for having occasional concerns.  It is just trying to be a good neighbor and our neighborhood is pretty tight in that regard which I really like.

We see staff coming and going, but rarely see residents. Well we see one.  This resident sneaks out unsupervised and occasionally has issues.  The company that owns the group home in our neighborhood says their residents are not supposed to be unsupervised, that is why they have one on one care.

But the resident who wanders has done things like peep in people’s windows, including mine (which did scare the crap out of me early one morning).  That of course is not so much fun and well there are laws about what amounts to trespassing and being a peeping Tom.  But we haven’t as of yet called the local police about that, we just tell the company when he is out because he is developmentally disadvantaged.  We figure this resident probably misses having an actual family, only he’s not ours to care for. This poor person also occasionally has anger issues. That also isn’t ideal because we have kids and we worry about the acting out occurring when the kids are out playing because they are children and not equipped to handle things like that. And again, this person is not our responsibility.

My friends who have these group homes from similar companies experience varying degrees of issues from these homes as well.  Some have even told me of their concerns.  Some have had houses where the police have been called a great deal at different times or problems with an overabundance of people parking on lawns like it is a mall parking lot.   I have never seen the local police at our neighborhood group home, although once a few months ago I did see a county sheriff car stop by.

We are very lucky all things considered in our neighborhood.  I have seen homes like this end up on the news either because of living conditions or missing residents. But still we wonder what our rights are? Do we have the right to ask how many people live there and how many people by code are allowed to live in any kind of a group home? Should we be calling the police when residents wander alone nstead of the company’s local office?  And do we have the right to be concerned about upkeep of the property and worry when their septic smells?

I just don’t know,  so I am putting it out there to all of you.  Especially if you have such homes where you live. These residents of these group homes deserve to have a normal a life as possible, but they are sort of among the voiceless in our society so what do we or should we do if we think one of these houses has a problem? Additionally, what are our rights as property owners and residents and what do local municipalities do to ensure these group houses blend successfully into our communities and ensure that the actual residents are always safe?

I will throw something out there. Everyone knows I am not a huge fan of followers of Rudolf Steiner and Anthroposophy. However that being said, it seems that The Camphill Movement in Chester County does some pretty awesome things for developmentally disadvantaged children and adults.

In closing I will add I have been torn about this for a long time.  These homes are for a lot of us a relatively new phenomenon in our neighborhoods and communities.  And there are no guides or rule books for co-exisiting.  We have  ideas of the rights of the residents thanks to disability and housing rights laws, but there really doesn’t seem to be anything that lays out the rights of the people who live around them.  So maybe it would be nice if some group in Pennsylvania or local municipalities could give us an outline.

Thanks for stopping by.

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this is progress?

DSC_0042Once again I turn to why we need to stand up for the land.  We do not need so much development.  We have a lot to consider and once open space is gone, it is gone for good.

Moderation is the word that should be used when it comes to development, only that never happens.  There are way too many giant developments.  Let’s hit the pause button and see what our infrastructure and natural water sources and so on and so forth can actually tolerate for a while.

But that never happens, does it?

Case in point is the great mistake of Delaware County.  Newtown Township approved the giant Toll Brothers plan now in progress on the old DuPont Estate formerly known as Foxcatcher farm on Goshen Road and Route 252 in Newtown Square.

DSC_0054An entire little Stepford City, composed of around 450 homes and amenities (i.e. other structures) will rise from where there was the gentle rise of hills, fields, forest. Of course I wonder about all the natural water sources on the property and will they be preserved and cared for?  Will they have a septic system like Byers Station where the septic fields smell a good part of the year?

Most of the old and historic buildings and houses on the estate were bulldozed for this “progress”.   They will now build Tyvec McMansions with preposterously pretentious names like “Liseter- The Bryn Mawr Collection”.

Newtown Square is also facing development from that “Ellis Preserve” site which was formerly the Ellis School and ARCO Chemical and other things. I think all in all Newtown Township officials haven’t a clue as to what they have done and in 20 years there will be regrets, and lots and lots of unmanageable traffic and other issues.

Of course no one realistically expected the DuPont Estate to survive intact.  After all, once crazy John went to prison for shooting Dave Shultz how much interest did the family have in dealing with all this? There were three challenges to the will of John DuPont, but never a mention I could find of preserving part of the estate in any way.

So now we are where we are today.  I think Newtown Township Officials DSC_0055should have fought for a less dense plan, but hey they will learn.

Look at the photos.  Look at the savagery of development. Look at all the clear cutting of practically every standing tree and blade of grass and for what?  For plastic houses that will not survive the test of time?  I have said it before and I will say it again: this land looks raped.

I am so glad this isn’t too close to where I live.  But this is the case in point as to why the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania needs to update the Municipalities Planning Code and give municipalities the power to legally hit the pause button on development —- a temporary moratorium as it were.

A few years ago a bill known as HB 904 was proposed in 2007 and 2009 – it was even discussed in an Inquirer article. Lobbyists from the building industry and developers and other  groups killed this bill.

Anyway, the photos speak volumes, don’t they?